Gourmet Salad Greens are Easy to Grow
Mesclun is a blend of different types of salad greens. Most mixes include peppery greens like arugula and milder plants like lettuce. In French, the word “mesclun” means “mixture”. These greens generally grow best in cool weather but a few precautions will help the plants hold into summer. Many gardeners sow several crops in kitchen gardens and enjoy gourmet salads throughout the spring and fall.
Preparing the Soil
First, decide where the mesclun will be planted and how big the bed should be. In early spring the bed needs full sun, but if the salad greens are to be grown into the hot part of the summer select a plot with part shade. Mesclun is best planted as a large patch instead of in rows.
The mesclun bed should not be so big that a person can’t reach across it to harvest the greens. Once the area(s) are selected, break up the soil and enrich it with well-rotted compost.
If compost is not available, work some fertilizer into the bed. These fresh amendments may burn young seedlings. Prepare the bed a couple of weeks before planting so the sharper elements in the compost of fertilizer have time to break down. Rake the soil and allow it to settle.
The soil should be moist at planting time, but not overly wet. To check it, gather a lump and squeeze it. If it makes a firm ball, the soil is ready.
Choosing the Seeds
Picking the “right” mesclun mix is a matter of both personal taste and the climate. Spinach and lettuce will make mild palates happy while those who prefer spicy mixes that include endive and mustard. If the seed is planted very early in the spring, pick a packet with chicories, lettuce, and arugula as these varieties are all cold tolerant. For plants lasting to the warm days of summer, pick a selection of chervil, corn salad and kale.
Do not be vexed by a wide selection of packets that contain greens that family members don’t like. Instead, customize the seed mix by buying individual seed packets of the preferred greens. Only two to four will do, and leftover seeds can be saved from year to year if they are kept in a cool dark place.
Many gardeners sow several crops each season so it is likely that a large amount of seeds will be used anyway.
Planting and Maintenance
Sow the seeds by scattering them thinly over the plot. Do not worry about spacing as the thinnings can be eaten. Also, lettuce needs light to germinate and many of the other seeds for mesclun greens are too tiny to plant individually.
Water the plot gently and make sure it gets even, but not excessive moisture. If it gets hot before the crop is ready to harvest, make a shade for the bed. Make a frame out of wood or chicken wire that goes over the entire mesclun bed. Then, simply drape it with cheesecloth to provide the plant’s shade. This frame can also be draped with plastic to protect plants from freezing.
Harvesting and Storing the Mesclun
Mesclun mix can be eaten at any stage. Seedlings can be plucked and used in salads. Most plants will reach a significantly harvestable stage in a little over a month. They should be at least 4 inches tall before large batches are taken.
The easiest way to harvest these leaves is to take a pair of scissors and cut the tops of the plants off. Leave about two inches of the base so the plant will continue to produce.
Many gardeners get several harvests out of a mesclun bed. Or, the individual leaves can be harvested if the outside leaves only are taken, leaving the rest to grow. It is best to harvest mesclun early in the morning. The heat later in the day will wilt them and they will not be crisp.
Store the greens in a paper bag in the refrigerator. If the salad greens go limp, re-crisp them by soaking them in a bowl of ice water for about an hour, but no longer. They are best served in a salad with vinaigrette dressing.